Russia’s army has been rocked by a powerful Ukrainian counterattack on the Kharkiv front in Ukraine’s northeast. The push has made rapid gains and seen Ukraine’s forces come within touching distance of Izyum, where thousands of Russian troops are based. Reports suggest that Kyiv’s army has reached the banks of the Oskil river at Senkove and has managed to cut off Russia’s main line of communication with its army units in Izyum.
Putin’s troops appear to be in effect encircled and face being wiped out or ignominious surrender.
The tactic is a classic military ploy that has been used throughout the ages by generals on the battlefield.
Dan Snow, a military historian, claimed it was the “holy grail” for commanders and could be “annihilating”.
He said: “This….is mind-blowing. We are watching an army scythe through enemy lines, and thrust deep behind them, threatening to surround large numbers of troops.
“Envelopment is the holy grail. It can be annihilating.”
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote in their latest bulletin that Kyiv had succeeded in capturing an estimated 2,500 square kilometres in Kharkiv Oblast as of September 9.
Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces claimed that in some places their units had advanced up to 50 km (31 miles) within Russian-held territory.
They added in their situational report on Saturday: “More than thirty settlements that were temporarily occupied by the Russian invaders in the Kharkiv region were liberated or taken under control.”
The speed of the advance has stunned both western observers and the Russian high command.
The Kremlin is scrambling to send reinforcements to the area to try and stop the Ukrainian onslaught and prevent Izyum from falling to Kyiv.
ISW researchers said: “Russian forces and occupation authorities in the rear of occupied Kharkiv Oblast are panicking to reinforce Russian positions and ‘evacuate civilians’ amid the high pace of the Ukrainian advance.
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“Geolocated Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) footage shows Russian military convoys in Raihorodka, Luhansk Oblast driving north reportedly to reinforce Russian forces in unspecified areas of Kharkiv Oblast.”
Unconfirmed reports on social media suggest that clashes are already taking inside Izyum and that some Russian units have surrendered.
Barracuda, an OSINT investigator, tweeted late on Friday: “Eyewitnesses from Izyum report that clashes took place in the city.
“Residents of Izyum report that the Ukrainian Army has surrounded the city, and some Russian soldiers have laid down their weapons and surrendered to the Ukrainian Army.”
Despite the success of the Kharkiv offensive, Ukraine’s forces are vulnerable to a Russian counterattack on their flanks.
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Mr Snow observed: “If these flanks don’t hold, you’re in trouble.”
A similar point was made by a Russian military blogger, who noted that Ukrainian forces were thin on the ground.
“Play Civilisation” explained: “Of course, Ukraine’s forces are in a vulnerable situation – they are drawn out in thin lines of formation, they have poor communications and a thin density of soldiers.
“A powerful counter will simply crush their group and create a gigantic hole in their defence.
“But for that you need reserves. The question is do we have any there or not?”